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Tommy Druen: What does it mean to get back to normal?

"Let us aspire for more than normal. Let us trade in normalcy for greatness."

By Tommy Druen

In 1920, then U.S. Senator Warren G. Harding made his successful campaign for president. It was something of a surprise to the nation, if not to Harding himself. He had hardly distinguished himself in his one term in the Senate. Even at his party's convention, Harding did not gain a lead until the 9th ballot, winning it on the 10th. And, upon being nominated, The New York Times offered what had to have been the most back-handed compliment ever by stating he was "a very respectable Ohio politician of the second class."

So how did Harding pull off the upset over James Cox and Franklin D. Roosevelt? Like much in politics, it was timing. In November 1920, Americans were less than a year removed from the end of World War I, the First Red Scare, and the Spanish Flu. Harding, a former journalist, hit upon the slogan of "A Return to Normalcy." In a time of upheaval, he promised a return to days past when people knew what to expect. It worked and the second-class politician won the presidency in a popular and electoral landslide.

Unfortunately for our nation, the day he was inaugurated was probably the highlight of the Harding presidency. Major scandals, both governmental and extramarital, plagued Harding during the two and a half years he served in office before his untimely death.

Both then and now, it seems the only normalcy he returned to the nation was the graft and cronyism that accompanied public office far too often. Within six years, any thought of returning to normalcy was out the window as we entered the most unprecedented of unprecedented times with The Great Depression.

While details may vary, it is a story that sounds familiar today. I cannot count the number of times I have heard someone recently say that they hope to soon regain some semblance of normalcy. Vaccines have brought hope, but that hope goes far beyond that of avoiding a virus. It is a hope of life returning to the way it was before February 2020 when the only time people heard of Corona involved a slice of lime.

While it made for a great political slogan, students of history know that it is impossible to make a return to normalcy. Time moves ever forward, regardless of desire. Human beings are creatures of experience, adjusting to every new obstacle thrown in our path. We take what we learn each day and process it to hopefully make the next day better. Some days we succeed, some days we fail. But we never move backwards.

While I know the intentions are noble, I cannot help but internally cringe a bit when someone says they hope for a semblance of normalcy. I understand the driving force behind such a statement. Do I want this virus to be in our rearview mirror? Of course. The number of lives lost to it has been staggering, and I cannot begin to contemplate what it is like to lose a loved one to a cause so politicized. Do I want our economy to regain stability and predictability? Most definitely. Do I want to enjoy some of the creature comforts of life such as travel, concerts and athletic events? Yes!

At the same time, I hope there are areas where we never go back to what life was like pre-COVID. Never again do I want to live in a world where public health is put on the back burner. Never again do I want to be a part of a society that turns a blind eye to tragedies such as George Floyd. Never again do I want to find myself taking church functions, dinner with friends, and hugs from family members for granted. Never again do I want to not appreciate all that we have in this life.

More than anything, to me this past year and a half has revealed the true nature of many people. While some complained about the putting on of the literal masks, I found it beneficial to see the removal of the metaphorical ones. Some days I saw the worst of humanity from people I thought knew better. Some days I was heartened to see extreme kindness and compassion demonstrated. And still other days I saw what we all did; the fact that, try as we might, we cannot cope alone and truly need one another.

Normalcy is a fallacy. It does not exist. Today's concept of what is normal is different from yesterday's, as will be tomorrow's. I think it is time we set aside normalcy as a goal and simply try to make each day better than the prior, both for us as individuals and communities.

Horror author Michael Montoure wrote a series of short stories collected in the anthology Slices. One dealt with the spread of a disease and a city's reaction to it. One line that was particularly haunting, and should be a warning for us, came towards the end: "Life went back to normal, after that, as it will do if you're not careful."

Let us aspire for more than normal. Let us trade in normalcy for greatness.

Tommy Druen is a native of Metcalfe County, with roots in Adair County going back to the 18th century. He presently lives in Georgetown, Kentucky and can be reached at

This story was posted on 2021-05-30 13:51:44
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